9 Submitting requests

Now that you’ve got a solid draft of the request language. You want to submit your FOIA request! As previously mentioned, each agency has a FOIA requester center or office, which accepts and processes the requests.

Some agencies are quite messy with multiple layers of components, like the DOD, the DOJ, and DHS, while others are very simple with no components, like the Department of State. It can be helpful to think of agencies as umbrellas, with the components underneath. For example, under the DOD umbrella is the Army, Navy, Special Operations Command, and the U.S. Southern Command, among MANY others. While you could send the request to the main DOD office (the Office of the Secretary of Defense), it would likely get re-routed to the relevant component, adding time, paper-work, and the chance that it will get lost.

FOIA Requester Service Centers

By law, each agency must maintain a FOIA requester service center/office which manages all of the incoming FOIAs, conducts searches and reviews responsive records, and corresponds with requestors. There should be contact information for each office, including a telephone number, fax number, and snail-mail (USPS) address. You can access the contact information of the FOIA service centers/offices on FOIA.gov, or also looking at the agency’s own website, however sometimes the information is conflicting due to lack of updates, and frequent changes. Many agencies now accept requests electronically through online portals. A key FOIA tip is to always make sure you keep documentation of all correspondence with an agency and try to keep it organized.

What happens after I submit a request?

The agency should send you an acknowledgement letter, confirming that they got your request and they are processing it. While the FOIA stipulates that an agency must respond within 20 days to all requests, it allows for extensions based on extenuating circumstances. Nearly every agency will say that it will not be able to respond to you within the 20-day statutory limit, which is normal. While it may be strategic in certain cases to appeal the failure to respond with responsive records in 20 days, usually people allow the agency an extension.

Usually it takes months, but sometimes even years, or decades,[i] to receive a final response to your request. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for correspondence and is totally fine to check in every once in a while.

[i] “25-Year-Old FOIA Request Confirms FOIA Delays Continue Unabated” https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/foia-audit/foia/2019-03-08/25-year-old-foia-request-confirms-foia-delays-continue-unabated

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How to FOIA by Emily Willard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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